If you’re in Italy and want to use a cell phone, here’s how to do it

Italians are known for talking and their zest for talking on their cell phone is no exception. In fact, Italy has one of the highest cell phone penetrations in the world. Most travelers to Italy typically don’t plan to spend their majority of their time cooped up indoors watching television and hence, having the use of a cell phone for calling restaurants, museums, family and friends back home as well as within Italy will certainly come in handy.

However, the reality is, only about 50% of US and Canadian cell phones work in Italy and those that do are expensive. The good news is that there are affordable solutions available. Here are some money saving tips.

Does Your Phone Work in Italy?

The first step is to determine if your phone works in Italy. In Italy, as with the majority of the world including all of Europe, cell phones use the GSM standard with both 900 and 1800 MHz spectrums. Many newer phones through AT&T, T-Mobile and Rogers in Canada do have the ability to be used in Italy. Verizon and Sprint have fewer as they use CDMA in North America and hence, the few phones they do have with GSM are intended for travelers and come at a price. In brief, if your phone is a GSM handset and is a tri band or a quad band, it will work in Italy. If it is a CDMA phone it will probably not. Still, check with your provider to see if it does have the 900 and 1800 Mhz GSM bands. You may need to contact your provider and have them enable international roaming. Better yet, instead of paying your carrier’s expensive rates, which, including tax, will be about $1.50 per minute for incoming and outgoing calls and double that in Canada, it makes sense to swap out their SIM card for a local Italian pay as you go SIM. While outgoing rates vary, you can expect to pay just a fraction for your outgoing calls, and, better yet, one thing they all have in common is that incoming calls are always free.

Prepaid Italian SIM Cards

There are several carriers in the Italy to choose from including TIM, Vodafone, Wind and Uno Mobile. If you purchase a SIM card when you arrive in Italy, you will need to provide a copy of your passport for registration purposes. You can also purchase one online prior to your departure. The advantage is that you will already be up and running upon arriving and you can give out your phone number in advance. The Uno Mobile SIM card, operating on Vodafone’s network, is specifically designed for English speaking travelers going to Italy. The menus are in English and the international rates, specifically to the USA and Canada, are lower than another other Italian carrier. and Cellular Abroad as well as other online sites offer the Uno Mobile SIM card in the USA.

Be Sure to Unlock Your Phone

It is important to know that even if your phone will work in Italy (check with your carrier if you have doubts – ask them if it has the 900 and 1800 network bands), you must ask your provider for the unlock code. Most carriers “lock” their handsets onto their network as they would obviously love to put their fingers in the proverbial pie, or in this case, the pasta sauce.

If your cell phone does not work in Italy and you cannot simply swap out your current SIM card for an Italian one, you have two options. You can rent a handset or you can purchase one.

There are many online companies offering service to Italy. The vast majority offer of cell phone rental companies for Italy will give you a UK number and you get a bill for the calls made when you come back.

The problem with having a UK number in Italy is twofold. First, some entities, such as restaurants or even hotels have international calling blocked. Therefore, if they needed to get hold of you for any reason, they may not be able to call you. Also, calling an Italian phone number is less expensive and therefore they may be reluctant even to call an international phone number. Cellular Abroad rents and sells cellular phones for Italy with the Uno Mobile SIM card.

If you travel often to Italy or anywhere else outside of the United States or Canada, you should consider purchasing a handset. A tri band or quad band GSM handset will work in over 200 worldwide simply by inserting the appropriate SIM card.

Summing it up, if your current cell phone works in Italy, you may want to consider getting it unlocked and buying a local Italian SIM card in order to have an affordable cellular solution. If your phone does not work and you are not a frequent traveler to Italy, it makes sense to rent a cell phone. If you do travel often, it makes sense to buy a SIM card and cell phone. Having your own cell phone while in Italy will help you blend right but a word to the wise – please do not take a stab at another Italian tradition which involves talking on the phone, talking with your hands and driving a car! Some things are just better left to the natives.

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